There are around 13.6 million people in the UK at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But for many, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. For Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Week (23-29 May), we take a closer look at the condition – and the ways it can be prevented or delayed.
By Dan Howarth, Head of Care at Diabetes UK
The number of people living with diabetes in the UK is at an all-time high. Our latest figures show there are now more than 4.9 million people living with the condition, with cases of type 2 diabetes accounting for around 90% of that figure. If you have type 2 diabetes, either your pancreas can’t make enough insulin, or the insulin made by your pancreas can’t work properly. Usually, insulin helps glucose (sugar) in the blood to enter our cells and fuel our bodies, but when this process doesn’t work, blood sugar levels keep rising. It is a serious condition and can be lifelong. And having type 2 diabetes without treatment can lead to serious complications that can damage parts of your body, including your eyes, heart and feet. But with the right treatment and care, it is possible to live well with type 2 diabetes and reduce your risk of developing these complications.
The treatment for type 2 diabetes is usually a combination of a healthy, balanced diet which is low in both sugar and saturated fats, keeping physically active, and medication. People may have to take insulin injections or tablets such as metformin. Some medication stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin, whereas others might be prescribed to help the body use the insulin better or help with weight loss, where appropriate. All treatments need to be individualised to a person’s need.
Age, family history, and ethnicity can also contribute to someone’s risk of type 2 diabetes, and people from African-Caribbean, Black African, or South Asian backgrounds are two to four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people from a white background. But we know that the dramatic increase in numbers of people living with obesity is helping to drive the rise in numbers of people living with type 2 diabetes in the UK.
Three in five adults in England are living with overweight or obesity and, while some of these people do not go on to develop type 2 diabetes, it is the single most significant risk factor for developing the condition.
REDUCING YOUR RISK
Research has shown that, for some people, combined lifestyle interventions – including diet, physical activity and sustained weight loss – can be effective in reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes by about 50%. Now is as good a time as any to start making healthy changes and the following tips will help you to reduce your risk.
Manage your weight: If you are living with overweight or obesity and are at high risk of type 2 diabetes, losing just 5% of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk. There are lots of ways you can lose weight and it’s about finding what works best for you. Making healthier food choices and being more active are both positive ways to start making these changes. If you need help with managing your weight, a dietitian can help you. Your GP surgery may also be able to help you find weight management services in your local area.
Eat a healthy and balanced diet: There is no one special diet for all people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Everyone is different, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way of eating for everyone. But the food and drink we have in our overall diet is linked to our risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
For example, if your overall diet is made up of food and drinks that are in high fat, have a high GI (glycaemic index) and low fibre content, this is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. But the good news is that by changing some of your food and drink choices, you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
But what is a healthy and balanced diet anyway? All these ways of eating have been linked with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes:
- Mediterranean diet: Largely based on plant foods, so includes a lot of fruits and veg, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and olive oil.
- Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet: Also includes plenty of fruit and veg, with a focus on wholegrains, low fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds.
- Vegetarian diet: Focused on grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits.
- Vegan diets: Plant-based, avoiding all animal foods such as meat, dairy, eggs and honey.
- The Nordic diet: Similar to Mediterranean diets, focuses on wholegrains, berries, fruits and veg, low-fat dairy and fish.
- Moderately cutting down on carbohydrates: This is not following a low-carb diet which is less than 130g per day, but cutting down on the amount of carbohydrate consumed and choosing healthier options such as wholegrains.
This is because they are made up of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and lean proteins and it’s the overall balance of our diet that is important in keeping us healthy. Research has shown that the following foods and drinks can be associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes: fruit and veg intake (including specifically green leafy veg, blueberries, grapes and apples); wholegrains; yogurt and cheese; and unsweetened tea and coffee.
Additionally, there are some foods we recommend reducing your intake of, as these have been associated with an increased risk. These foods include sugar sweetened drinks, red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates (like sugary snacks, white bread, sugary cereals), and potatoes (particularly French fries). Be more active: If you spend a lot of time sitting down, this is known as a sedentary lifestyle. Being sedentary is linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
So being active in your daily life can help to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. This doesn’t mean you need to take up a new sport or join the gym. You could make small changes so that you are being more active every day. Think about taking phone calls standing up, using stairs instead of the lift, and going for a walk on your lunch break.
If you need support… Along with your healthcare team, we’re here for you. If you have any questions or concerns, or just want to talk things through, Diabetes UK is here to help – you can contact our Helpline on 0345 123 2399 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Week, visit diabetes.org.uk.